Can you use a Macbook as a monitor? 


Smart devices are always showcasing new capabilities, so it’s easy to lose track of what they are actually capable of doing. When you have a device with a screen, like a Macbook, you might wonder what stops it from doing all the same things that any other monitor does?

Unlike a basic monitor, a Macbook is designed to use extra monitors, not become one. Macbooks do not feature a video input port, so you won’t be able to connect it via HDMI. However, with that being said, you can turn a Macbook into a makeshift monitor via screen mirroring, streaming your device to your Macbook, or by using a remote desktop application.

Let’s take a look at these options in greater detail.

Using Screen Mirroring with a Macbook

As long as you are using an Apple mobile device, you can mirror its screen to Macbooks, Apple TVs, and other smart TVs.

The devices communicate over your home Wi-Fi network as a way to handshake, so make sure they’re both on the same network before trying to screen mirror. The Screen Mirroring option should be available from the Control Center. Select the Macbook from the mobile device’s Screen Mirroring menu, and it should now appear on the larger screen.

Screen sharing is not a fast technology, even though a decent Wi-Fi network. It’s great for taking videos or text from a mobile device and turning it into something readable, though.

Using a remote desktop application

Instead of sharing the screen, take it over with remote desktop software like TeamViewer. This is a great option when you need to access the higher power of a stationary computer through a mobile computer like a Macbook. With a wide number of both free and paid options out there, it’s worth looking through more detailed reviews before settling on one.

You will need to install software on both the Macbook and the other computer. Security measures vary between applications, but you will likely need to activate the software on the other computer and record the code that it shows. Connect from the Macbook, enter the code, and you’ll have remote control.

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Remote desktop software can be slow, but most of the lag comes from sending video over the Internet. Many of the applications, including TeamViewer, have settings that use local Wi-Fi for a more stable throughput. 

Streaming to a Macbook as a second monitor

You can stream from a smart device to turn a Macbook into its digital extension. There are streaming options that don’t require any additional software beyond an Internet browser, so it’s a quick way to share the monitor as long as you have an Internet connection.

A Discord account is a free way to get streaming capability. Create your account, setup a server for yourself, and start streaming through the app. You can watch the stream through the app or the browser on the Macbook. Since the stream goes through the Discord servers, both computers will need to be online and will be impacted by lag. Only people inside the server will see the stream, unlike using a broadcasting site like Twitch.

For more advanced features and customizations, download a streamer application like Open Broadcaster Software. Set specific windows or sections of the screen to display, and the streaming monitor will stay focused on those bits of information while you work. That kills the “no downloads” benefit, but it’s worth considering if this becomes a long-term solution for you.

Ultimately, you’re still using the other computer, not the Macbook. The mouse and keyboard still need to be in the range of the streaming computer. It’s still closer to a true second monitor than using a remote desktop app. There is also more of a security risk compared to the steps involved with remote desktop software, but limiting who can see the stream will minimize the risk.

Using a second display with a MacBook

Using a second monitor with a Macbook can be easier than streaming, but it’s a little trickier on models without an HDMI port. For a wireless option, you can connect to smart TVs with AirPlay 2. 

Any monitor with an HDMI port can accept video input from a Macbook that has its own HDMI port without hassle. Once you connect the cable at both ends, the display should automatically extend to the second monitor. Some MacBook models only come with the Thunderbolt USB-C ports. For those, you will need a USB monitor or an adapter to convert the signal. A converter will also be necessary for any monitors that have neither an HDMI port nor a USB connection.

The AirPlay menu on the Macbook makes it easy to wirelessly connect it to an Apple TV or any smart TV with AirPlay 2. Make sure that both devices are on the same Wi-Fi network, then look in the Control Center on the Macbook for the Screen Mirroring menu. The Apple TV or AirPlay 2 device should appear in the list of available connections.

Beyond AirPlay, you’ll need a specialty gadget like a wireless HDMI dongle. Having yet another accessory to haul and keep track of is a pain, but the wireless HDMI adapters are endlessly useful.

After you get monitors connected through any of the above methods, you’ll want to configure the display. Extending the display gives you the most screen space, and be sure to arrange the monitors on the screen so your mouse movements flow naturally from one screen to the other.

Using multiple displays with a Macbook

Some models of Macbook can use more than one additional display through their Thunderbolt USB-C ports.

Connecting and configuring the multiple displays is similar to setting up a dual display. If necessary, you can use multiple adapters to meet the needs of a variety of monitors. Each adapter has a small price, but it might be worth it if you’ll frequently be using the multiple monitor setup.

Sticky notes with monitor numbers will help you with identifying and organizing the monitors according to the on-screen display. You may need to invest in a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard set if you run out of USB-C ports because of your monitors.

Steven Carr

Steven is a certified IT professional and gaming enthusiast. He has been working in the tech industry for over 10 years, and specializes in all things Tech-related. When he's not geeking out over the latest hardware or software release, he can be found testing out the latest video game.

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